Saturday, March 8, 2014

MSIG Sai Kung 50 and Tarawera Update

Late last year I was approached to take part in one of the MSIG Hong Kong Trail Races hosted by Action Asia Events. The second race in the series on Lantau unfortunately clashed with another event so I made sure I booked myself in for the last race of the series, the MSIG Sai Kung 50. Hong Kong has been a destination I've wanted to explore for a long time. Many friends have encouraged me to come over and play on the trails there; Australian Trail Runner and trail running writer Rachel Jacqueline, Grand Slammer Andre Blumberg, Trail Runner and photographer Lloyd Belcher and recently Scotty Hawker from WA who has just come back from a successful race in the HK100.

It seems quite odd that a big population in a sprawling metropolis on a relatively small plot of land can have space for trails at all! So I was very curious to see what exactly Honkers had to offer. I was there to represent Inov-8 x Descente (Descente are the distributors of Inov-8 in Asia) at the MSIG Sai Kung 50k Trail Race. I have previously only run in Japan in Asia, but all the buzz seems to be coming from Hong Kong. I was there for only a very short time, a typical FIFO job, but I really now am itching to get back there again for some other races.

What can I say about the race? A couple of things first. The weather was beautiful for running and many comments afterwards were along the line of 'we got lucky today' even 'we dodged a bullet' etc. Seems that it is usually much warmer, muggier and smoggy. Instead the day was overcast with a nice cool breeze, the air was clean and the humidity didn't reach any uncomfortable level. The race started on the very East of Hong Kong Territory, off the main island about 1 hours drive from the city. I was there staying with some other overseas guests; Cassie Scallon from the USA, Stuart Air from the UK, Alessandra Carlini from Italy, Rudy Gilman from the USA and Pavel Toropov from the UK. Both Rudy and Pavel live very interesting lives, both living in the far western high altitude Tibet region, living very basic lives through interpreting and translating but mainly living off race winnings. Seems that China has some very lucrative races and when internationals are allowed entry, these two are always nearly at the pointy end. With the top local HK runners also present (the first HK locals home would win a ticket over to the SkyRunning World Championships), it was a packed line up.

The course was a 50km route taking in some of Sai Kung's finest extensive trail network and its highest peaks, including the ominously named Sharp Peak. The route had 3 and a half main climbs, with a lot of steep, technical descents and a good dose of road and some flattish trail and beach running thrown in for good measure. I had no idea what to expect or what shoes to choose. Thankfully Rudy and Pavel, who had both run in the race before and Michael Maddess, the RD, gave me an extensive run through of the course. When I saw that Rudy, the current Champion of the White River 50 in the US, was wearing X-Talon 212s I was sold. Thankfully I had packed these in my carry on luggage.

What I can say about the HK trail network? In a word, they are very challenging! The trails are very rocky, hard and unforgiving on the legs...actually this was just the workout I needed with Tarawera coming up in 2 weeks. Nothing better to toughen up the legs than a good smashing a couple of weeks out. The first two climbs were in the first 16km and it was pretty clear from the get go that Rudy had a mission today and was out in front pretty much from the first climb onwards and that is where he was to stay. A very classy athlete indeed.

My race was all about covering the distance, running strongly the whole way, being a good ambassador for Inov-8 and Descente and giving myself a bit of an insight into HK trail running. From pretty much the first climb, I was to be in a ding dong battle all day with the top HK trail runner Siu Keung (Stone) Tsang. We must have swapped between 2nd/3rd spot half a dozen times throughout the day and in the end I was beaten to second spot by a runner with incredible downhill running skill. This guy just zipped away from me on the technical, steep descents and was out of sight before I knew it. Now I consider myself a pretty descent downhiller but this guy takes it to a whole new level.

Fortunately for me, my climbing legs and flat leg speed were on song and every time we hit this type of terrain I'd pull Stone back in pretty quickly. There were also thousands of steps in this race. If you think TNF100 is bad, come over to HK sometime. Thankfully, I'vebeen training a lot on the Blue Mts trails up in Katoomba a lot, taking my groups out as part of my UP Coaching TNF50/100 Preparation Days, so I handled the stairs pretty well.

The other feature of the HK trails is their love affair with concrete! Many sections were pavemented and this was to give me a lot of issues all day, especially in the super minimalist shoes I was wearing. In hindsight, if I had known about the amount of hardpack and concrete I probably would have settled for the Trail Rocs with a double inner sole!

At around 38km Stone and I were running together but with the last section of the race being downhill in nature I was a dead duck and pretty much was then concentrating on holding my form and finishing the race solidly. I was happy with third in my first big race of the year; it was a great last hard run before Tarawera and I had ticked most of the boxes I had set out to do. The race has conditioned my body well and I got through the day well with very minimal food as was the aim - I only went through 4 Hammer Gels all up so was a great fat burning training day. The Inov-8 Race Ultra Vest was comfortable and reliable as ever with me only needing one 500ml bottle and one hand held 250ml collapsible. The perfect combo all day and this will be my kit setup for Tarawera too.

There were some very memorable moments in the race. On a couple of occasions I had to stop dead in my tracks as cows were on the trails. Big cows too. There was some funny looks on their faces as I tiptoed around them. They were evidently used to people but I am not used to cows! Some of the views were stunning too; of coastlines and small grottos out in the ocean. We also ran through some small HK coastal villages and even had a chance to see the HK surfing scene along the beaches.

I really enjoyed this race; it was wonderfully organised and everything about it was done with a touch of class. The trails were properly tough and I felt every metre of the 2400m of up/down in the race. I'll definitely be heading back to Hong Kong again. The enthusiasm for trail running over there is electric!

This leaves me feeling very positively about Tarawera next weekend. I wouldn't say I'm at the peak of my fitenss but then again I don't want to be this early in the year. I want to leave all the little 1%s for Western States this year, but I am looking forward to racing the calibre of athlete that Tarawera has attracted. How's this for some names? Sage Canaday, Michael Aish, Vajin Armstrong, Martin Gaffuri, Yoshikazu Hara, Martin Lukes, Carlos Sa, Scott Hawker, Michael Wardian, Yun Yanqiao and Rob Krar just to name a few!

I guess the good news is that with the Tarawera course going back to its original route, it should suit my strengths a little more and may take some of the Mountain Goats out of the equation (unlikely). But one has to think positively! It's going to be huge, that's for sure. I'll report back after next weekend!
Mens 1st to 5th (L-R)

Monday, February 24, 2014

Snowy Mts Half Marathon

The Australian Off Road Multisport Festival is held each year on the beautiful grounds of the Lake Crackenback Resort and Spa. This whole weekend event involves the Off Road Triathlon Championship on the Saturday, followed by stand alone MTB and Trail Running Races on the Sunday. I was down to 'defend my patch' at Lake Crackenback in the Trail Half Marathon. I had run on these trails many times in my role as Ambassador at the resort hosting the Trail Running retreats with Hanny Allston. I knew them well and there was certainly an element of 'no one beats me at my game on my turf', especially a triathlete ;-)

I was probably in the poorest shape fitness wise I have been in a long time. I have been trying to rest my body and not rack up massive mileage totals so early in the year. With my main goal race this year being Western States, the high mileage training doesn't really kick off until late March. So this race would be one thing, a good indication of where I'm at! I had also taken out a big group for an UP Coaching TNF100 Preparation Day the day before which included a 40km (albeit leisurely) training run! So I had a few excuses already messing with my mental prep for this one.

Crossing the Little Thredbo River
The title of 'Dirt Master' would be given to the male and female athlete who could complete the fastest combined long course triathlon on the Saturday, the 75km MTB on the Sunday AM and finish it off with the PM half marathon! Surely there wouldn't be anyone that could back up that well to blast around my 'home away from home' and beat me to the finish? Enter Ben Allen.

This guy is just a machine; an ex pro triathlete who now travels the world on the X-Terra World off road triathlon series, usually winning most of these. He monstered the triathlon on the Saturday, won the 75km MTB and no doubt wanted to head home with a clean sweep by taking out the trail half marathon too. I had my work cut out for me! I was introduced to Ben before the race and his partner Jacqui too. Just a lovely couple but I could see from the glint in his eye he was there to race.

The race started in the mid afternoon, at the hottest part of the day and it was blasting rays down. I was glad we were in a dry heat though. There is nothing worse than humidity! The trail was an interesting course, taking us along side the Thredbo River on the first lap and then out to The Diggings Camp Ground on the second lap. There were also some trails around the resort utlised. It could be best described as a flat, singletrack course that had a few surprises, namely a couple of river crossings across the Little Thredbo River!

Away we went and I was thankful to have most of the first lap to myself. I was feeling comfortable out in front until I hear the quick footsteps of someone behind me approaching the end section of the first lap. It was Ben and he was on a mission. The way he came up from nowhere was pretty impressive and in any other race I would have just moved to the side and let the faster man pass. But not today. These were my trails and I had some pride to defend!
With Ben and Jacqui

We ran together for a bit and I was running on near full throttle but threw in a little extra that I had in reserve. Still Ben matched me and we went through the start/finish to start the second lap basically together. I had a real battle now. Starting the second lap, the little extra effort I had put in seemed to take it out of Ben and on the first couple of little lumps that we went up and over and I had stretched the elastic band a bit. This little breathing space was what I needed and I felt again like the race was in my control until that is if Ben surged again.

Along the Muzzlewood Track out to the Diggings, we ran along some twisty MTB track and it was flowing fun! I had managed to really break away from Ben by now and I could breath a sigh of relief knowing that I would take this one out on my home track! In the end, I'd managed to get 3 minutes in front of Ben, who obviously felt the effects of the big weekend in his legs. On fresh legs I would think the result may have been different!

The whole weekend looked like a really great event and I'm really pleased it was such a success with many triathletes, mountain bikers and trail runners combining and united together by the spirit of adventure. You just can't find a more stunning location than Lake Crackenback either!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Splish Splash: Running Wild Wentworth Falls

Trail running is just a damn fun thing to do at any time and I was reminded on the weekend why I love racing on trails too! The Running Wild Wentworth Falls race is just a ripping little course and when you throw in puddles and rain I felt just like a pig in mud.

It's been a long time between good drenchings up here in the Blue Mountains and I was very happy to wake up to showers on race morning. On went the Inov-8 Roc Lites. In the dry, I'd wear the X -Talons on this course but the Roc Lites offer a little more surface area that I thought would come in handy on the slick boardwalks along the Charles Darwin Walk section.

The start was pretty quick with Robbie Neill dashing off and showing remarkable ability to stay on his feet in road shoes on the boardwalks. My fellow Woodfordian and smiling marshal Jo Brischetto, who has just started running again after a bit of a knee issue, pointed us up the single track and up to Chester Rd. It was not long after here on the way back down to the Falls that I noticed Robbie pulling over to the side. I asked if he was lost (oh the irony) and he said he was a little sore in the achilles and that his day was over. He gave me some good encouragement and I was on my way.

Down the National Pass we went...deep down into the valley, down slippery steep metal staircases. You had to have your wits about you on this stuff. The sheer cliff faces around here are breathtaking. Once at the bottom, we ran under the Falls and continued on the Pass to the Valley of the Waters which was unsurprisingly wet, but is one of the most visually stunning trails in the whole Blue Mountains. Not that we had time to stop and read, but there are signboards along the way describing how the pass came to being with hardy men from a different era literally chipping and picking a pass along the middle of a cliff face. There's some photos on the boards of them doing this. Not one rope, safety harness, crash hat, risk assessment filing cabinet let alone a jackhammer in sight! Just a lot of smiling, sweat drenched faces. Couldn't think of a better work office myself...I'd be smiling too if that was my job!

From there I skipped along the stepping stones and joined the Nature Track past Lillians Bridge. It was pouring now and streams were running down the trail. I was making sure I didn't slip and fall as there are some drops off the side that would definitely be your last one ever!

Back up many bush steps and on to the section of the Nature Track on way to Conservation Hut which may be the flattest trail in the Blue Mountains. I put the hammer down. I know how fast Wes and Ewan would be along there. Once past here I hit the Short Cut Track (no joke...that is the name of the track!) for the journey home. I love this and flowing and lots of big steps you can leap and bound down. This is where the photo was taken! Oh yeah!

From there it was onto the Breakfast Point Lookout Track down to Undercliff Track, I admired a few big drop offs and I had a few minor slips here but thankfully none at the same time! The last section was back onto the Charles Darwin Walk and I took a second to take in the lovely Jamison Creek. Last year someone dumped a whole heap of chemicals into the local storm water which drains into the creek and killed all the yabbies and water life. But I'm glad the creek is now back to a healthy state and the critters have returned.

Coming back to the finish I was smiling with absolute kiddie joy for that had been a lot of fun! I high fived RD extraordinaire Ian Sargeant as I crossed the line and gave Jo a hug. She would have loved to have run that course too, it must have killed her on the inside to see everyone there but it won't be long before she is back. Anne Mackie handed me my prize; a showbag of drinks and other no nos that I've been working off from Christmas. Oh well, just another reason keep training hard!

Racing this course is just such a different beast to training on it. This course has it's fair share of tricky stuff; boardwalks (ice rinks in the wet!), stepping stones, metal stair cases going deep down and high up, yuck stairs, stunning waterfalls and the odd rock overhang ready to concuss the daydreamers. Doing all this at race pace in the rain, and well by the end my brain was much more fried than my legs! I was very happy to take the win and share the podium with training buddies and mates Wes and Ewan.

Thanks to RunningWild for once again giving us a place to meet up and play on! See you at Kedumba!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A big thanks!

This is just a message of thanks to all the many friends that have passed on their congratulatory messages via Facebook etc regarding me receiving the award of 2013 Blue Mountains Sportsperson of the Year.

It was a huge honour to receive the award. I'm going to paraphrase a lot of what I mentioned in my acceptance speech but essentially I'm really humbled to be awarded and to have the support of so many people in the running and local Blue Mountains Community.

For a relatively small city, the Blue Mountains certainly produces its fair share of fine sportspeople. You only have to look at the back page of the local Gazette to see the plethora of fine performances right across the sporting spectrum; including those athletes with disabilities.

There are Olympians, National Team members and elite sportspeople at the top of their chosen sport. As an example, our 10,000m National record holder Ben St Lawrence hails from the Blue Mountains. There's never a shortage of junior champions as well.

So perhaps I was the only nomination for the award, who knows, but it's an award that means a lot nonetheless. I guess the one thing that I feel perhaps stronger than others is the connection my sport has with the local environment. I simply wouldn't be a trail runner if I didn't live in this runner's paradise. I feel that at times as though I'm gaining such an unfair advantage by living up here and having so many diverse and beautiful trails all around me.

But honestly, trail running for me rarely feels like a sport when I'm out and training. Yes, come race day it's game on, but for me trail running is as much as part of the essence of who I am as much as it is about the sport of trail running. The peace, the time to reflect and connect with nature and the energy of life is so much more important to me than any result.

But you know what? All this wouldn't be possible without the freedom and high standard of living we are blessed to have as people of this great country. The very fact that we can get out the door whenever we want, run through the bush and be safe while doing it should never be taken for granted. I am a proud Australian and love the Australian way of life; which in the Blue Mountains always involves the environment around us. It is, afterall, a city within a National Park.

Since moving up here 3 years ago, I've also had the pleasure of connecting with a welcoming and supportive running community. People were more than happy to bring me into their own little running community and I'm very grateful to all the local runners for the many training runs and coaches like Rob Spilling and Earl O'Brien who have helped me out along the way.

But I do believe that as much as you take you have to give back. As much as I can I've always tried to promote the Blue Mountains to others as a wonderful place to come and train or explore. I love nothing more than taking people out and showing them the trails and what the Blue Mountains has to offer.

I also have to say that without trail running event organisations there wouldn't be an opportunity for us as trail runners to get together as much as we do; so for all the event directors; groups like RunningWild and Mountain Sports, your involvement is very much appreciated too.

Oh and whoever it was that nominated me, thanks very much!
With Young Citizen of the Year Clair Brown,
Citizen of the Year Sergio Rosato

Thursday, January 23, 2014

2014 - The Year Ahead

2014 is already shaping as a big year of ultra running and I'm very excited about the year ahead. My big aim this year is to build on my experience of racing internationally last year and hopefully achieve a big OS result. It's a big schedule and it could all go up belly up any time. It's a fine line; looking after my body while still wanting to push the limits of what I ever thought was possible.

Narrabeen All Nighter
100km World Champs qualifier. Tick. Done a bit more for good measure.

Australian Cross-Triathlon Championships & Dirt Fest MultiSport Festival 
This is held at Lake Crackenback Resort. The Australian Cross Triathlon Championships are the main event but there will also be a 21km Trail Run of which I will be taking part in.

Sai Kung 50
I've read and heard so many good things about the trail running scene in Hong Kong that I had to go to experience it for myself. This is a formidable race with a lot of big climbs and descents.

Tarawera Ultra Marathon
This is my first race in the Ultra Trail World Tour (UTWT) and will be my second visit to Tarawera. I really love running in New Zealand and Paul Charteris does an exceptional job race directing this one.

Buffalo Stampede Ultra
SkyRunning comes to Australia! This promises to be pound for pound the toughest ultra-trail race ever held in Australia. Training up for this will put me in good shape for every other event this year. So the theory goes.

The second of my UTWT races. My second crack at this race and I'll be looking to improve on 5th from last year. Tough, tough race.

A great concept race over in WA, all money raised goes to the Wings for Life Spinal Cord Research Foundation. With UTMF it will be good to get back on the flat road and see what I can dish out.

Number 3 of UTWT. Will be tough to replicate what was a perfect race last year, but I wouldn't miss it for the world!

My last race of the UTWT and a dream come true race for me. 'All trails lead to Western'.
IAU 100K World Championships
I'll be aiming to improve on my 6:55 from two years ago.

Heysen 105
I'm really looking forward to running in South Australia for the first time on this spectacular course. I will also be involved in this event as a race ambassador.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

2014 Narrabeen All Nighter 12h

"When one runs 45, 50 or even 100km, for me, is not an ultra runner"
- Yiannis Kouros, taken from "Forever Running" (A must see for any ultra runner; it will either inspire or give you a massive reality check!)

The Narrabeen Allnighter was meant to be a simple affair; but it turned out to be anything but. First some background.

This event was the race that started my 'ultra running' career. Back in 2009, I decided to try something different and run the 100km race that (back then) the event offered. I ran 8:07 and on the back of that was selected in the Australian 100km team for the first Commonwealth Ultra Distance Championships, even though the qualifier was sub 8h. The selectors had faith in me I guess. At the last World Champs I ran 6:55. I little grace can go a long way!

And so I headed back again this year; with one aim, to again run under 8 hours for the 100km and get myself qualified again. But this year was a bit different. They no longer offer the 100km as a race format, rather they just have the 12h race format, but as part of this race have sought the proper approvals and will measure to give a 100km split for qualification and record purposes. It's a bit messy but basically what it meant to me was that I would run to 100km, get the time, and then 'sit out' the rest of the 12h race (AKA go home and sleep) but still be placed in that race wherever the 100km that I ran ranked me. No big deal. I was not there to compete, but to tick a box. Or so I thought, and now it's left me wondering now what significance this has now had on my running future.

Having primarily run trails for the last couple of years, I've forgotten what it's like to run on the road and this is a different beast altogether. But I was confident nonetheless. I've run 3 previous 100km road runs so this should be in my comfort zone. Ewan Horsburgh, one of Australia's top ultra runners, was my crew for the night. It was a fairly easy course. A 3.33km out and back course, meaning 30 laps. I had planned my pace and my splits and aimed for a 7:45 finish.

Pre-race I had thrown around the idea of going on and doing the whole 12h run. Most of this was at my birthday drinks catch up the night before. We say some dumb things but actually like all things said, even after a few drinks, there's an element of truth. I've been inspired recently by Zach Bitter, an American Ultra Runner, who recently smashed the World 12 hour Track record, running 163.6km! Zach and I have pretty parallel lives. He is a Special Education teacher too, have pretty similar PBs and loves running trails and road and everything in between. It did get me thinking about how many kms I could knock out in 12h. The 7:45 finish aim for 100km put me in a really good place to have a crack at the Australian 12h road record of 139km. So I had it at the back of my mind but definitely the Number 1 goal was to get the qualifier. I also knew that I have done very minimal road running training in the last, well let's see, year, and that my legs would be rather unconditioned to take on the unforgiving bitumen and concrete.

Early on in the race.
Pre race, I had the pleasure of meeting Barry Loveday who is a big time track and road ultra guy from Victoria. I first met Barry three years ago at the same event when he smashed out 147km in the 12h while I had to pull out at 50km in the 100km event due to heat exhaustion. I saw then what a machine he was. He mentioned to me that his plan was to go for 130km, but I can decode runner's language. I knew he was going for a lot more. There were others in the race too capable of big totals; Kev Muller from Victoria and Pam Muston to name a few.

So the race started in light at 8pm but with no moon in the sky it would be dark quickly. I set out on 4:40 pace and went through most laps a little under. I shared a bit of banter with the early pack before stretching out a little and getting some clear path. There were lots of kids, drunk parents and dogs around the park that the path went through early on we all copped a little bit of heckling from the audience. I love it. Soon it was dark and they all disappeared. I grabbed my Ferei 600 Lumens headlamp and switched it to very very low mode, just enough to light the path so not to blind runners coming the other way.

Through 30km in 2h 20m and I was building a clear lead in a race I had not really intended to be in. I was hitting my 3:35-3:40 splits dead on. Ewan was crewing perfectly; one lap water, next Hammer Sustained Energy, next lap a Hammer Gel and repeat. I was taking on a bit of water at the mid-point turnaround which also helped. Through the marathon in 3:15 or so; it wasn't fast but it was comfortable. 50k came and went in 3:51 and things were starting to get a little boring. Thankfully there was at least enough wildlife out there to make me feel I was on a trail. There were ducks, possums, Tawny Frogmouths and a Barking Owl which I'm sure would have confused many as they sound just like a dog but dogs don't live up trees.

Getting the Sub 8 qualifier.
After about 60km I began to feel sleepy and called upon a Red Bull to give me wings to get around. It worked. I was also building my lead but as I never considered I was in a race with anyone it was a rather superfluous feeling. At 80km Ewan reminded me that this 80-90km was an important section to keep focused and so I buckled down. When one of Australia's best ultra runners gives advice you take it. My feet were pretty beat up; it's been a little while since I've subjected them to the road over this distance and I guess they have become too spoilt on the trails. Mentally I was beginning to count down the laps to 100km. I was letting myself look foward to the finish then.

On the last few laps I not once entertained the idea to keep going after 100km. I had got what I came for and I gave myself the luxury of some slower laps to finish up on and cruised into 100km at 7:48:30. I promptly started walking and went back to my crewing area with Ewan. This is when the night was to take a bit of a twist.

I won't go into all the detail but the short version is that I wanted to stop but Ewan talked me into keep going. He reminded me of a pre-race chat we'd had where I had someone agreed to keep going (the exact wording of what went on has been thoroughly lost in translation. The conversation after I stopped at 100km went something like this:

Me: 'But I have got what I came for'?
Ewan: 'That is just a bonus along the way, this is a 12h race'.

Me: 'My feet are aching'
Ewan: 'They are meant to'.

Me: 'My laps are starting to blow out'
Ewan: We had a deal'

Marcus (running past): 'Get him back out here!'

So after changing my shoes (same model Inov-8 Road X 255s to another of the same), I was back out there and in no-mans land. I've run further and longer on the trails but never this far or long on the road. Mentally I hadn't prepared at all for the next 4 hours; had no idea how my body would hold together but at least I was moving again. The 6 minute or so break I had actually had done me well. I felt a bit refreshed and after a little while my feet settled down. I was working on my foot fall so that it would just kiss the ground rather than plonk down and it was making a difference.

My mountains mate Marcus was out there and, although on a different lap, had passed me when I was having my little sit down. I was determined to catch him even though he was a km or so in ahead. I also knew my rest had shaved my 'lead' over Barry from close to 2km to maybe 400m and I knew it wouldn't be long before he passed. It didn't worry me one bit though. From now on this was going to be for the experience and not the victory. If victory happened that would be the ultimate bonus of all bonuses.

Soon enough Barry went by like a man on a mission. He was still pumping out sub 5 pace and mine was more in the 5:10 -5:20 range and slipping. It was then I decided that if I was going to experience this thing I wasn't going to become a plodder, I was going to work hard, learn through the experience and see what I could dish up. Many times I had to work on my form and technique, keep the cadence up and push on. But I wasn't in the mood to bust myself good and proper. There is too much going on this year to do that.

Then is started to rain. At least it kind
of felt like trail running !
The pace more and less stayed in this range; a couple of times I attempted to get the kms back under 5 minute pace but they weren't sustained more than a couple in a row. It was hard work and it was starting to get, well quite honestly, boring. I was tired of the same path, tired of trying the same things to give me a spark and just plain tired from being up nearly 20 odd hours. But I pushed on.

Daybreak brought a new lease of life and it was something new to break up the boredom. I began yearning for the last hour, just so something different would happen! (The laps were shortened to 1km in the last hour). I kept going; not really knowing why and without a clear finish line and was tempted to sit down and pull up stumps. But for some reason I just kept going. Part of it was having my mountains mate Marcus Cockshut running with me keeping me company at my heels. He ran a great last 4hrs and, behind Barry, put the most metres on the board in this period.

Eventually I got the call from my crew that the last half hour was upon us and I'd have to dig deep to get reach 145km. It started teaming down and it was welcome relief. I grew some wings and picked up the pace. Eventually the legs responded and suddenly I went from a dodgy actor in the Walking Dead to a runner again. I pumped out a couple of sub 4:45kms to finish on. Ron came around in his station wagon and blew the horn to end this race without a finish line We all stopped; like in a game of 'What's the time Mr Wolf' and waited to get measured.

I can't say I enjoyed it but it was different. In the end I ran which was enough to break the old Australian Record. Problem was Barry ran a screaming world class total, reaching 149.7 so is now deservedly at the top and I have to settle for second on the list. Will I do this again? Well wait and see. Thanks to Ewan and Dave for crewing all night. It made me accountable!
How good are those race shirts?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

2013 - Year In Review

2013 is quickly coming to an end and it's time to look back and reflect on what's been and done and remind myself of some of the memories, experiences and friends that I've met in this year's chapter of this running journey.

At the top of the list for experiences would have to be the great travelling I've been fortunate enough to do. I've travelled far and wide for racing, to New Zealand, Japan, Europe and Western Australia. It hasn't always been easy; juggling work and racing, but I wouldn't have had it any other way! The trip to stunning Chamonix in France with the Inov-8 athlete retreat is something I feel blessed to have experienced. I left a more informed and focused athlete. Likewise my two trips to Japan were equally as beautiful. To feel the Japanese charm, culture and hospitality is something everyone needs to to at least once. I definitely left a better person for it. 

New Zealand was also a great experience. It was the first time I'd raced with big international athletes that I've admired and respected for a long time; it was quite a buzz! From the media and Q & A panel I was part of I learned from these guys and girls how to be an advocate for our sport. I came away a better ambassador.

Apart from racing, my 'running' career has also gone in a slightly divergent direction this year. One of my big motivations is helping others achieve their own personal goals and I have taken some small steps building my UP Coaching business. Although I don't have a whole lot of time to dedicate to it, the handful of runners I coached and mentored this year kicked some major race goals. I feel just as great knowing I was part of their success as any of my own personal successes this year. I also have wonderful memories from the Trail Running camps I've cohosted this year; first with Ultra Training Australia and more recently with Hanny Allston at Lake Crackenback. I get inspired by hearing about other people's running journeys and seeing them improve.

But to get to the racing. As much as I love all the other things I do around running, racing was my main priority. In summary, it was a huge year. Lots of racing; lots of highs but also a few inevitable lows, the recent GNW100 miler being the one that wasn't to be. But this is the nature of racing and at the end of the year I can now look back with much satisfaction; knowing I stayed true to my principles and motivations - to be a prolific racer but have a handful of 'key' events, to be versatile over various distances and terrains, to set, work towards and achieve goals and to get joy from (and hopefully give back) to the running community.

I have to happy with the overall results too; 30 top 5 finishers including 13 race wins.

I love the Central West races. I was honoured
to win the inaugural Orange Marathon.

It wasn't a huge year on the road., but I took my opportunities when I could. The highlights:
- Winning the inaugural Stromlo Running Festival 50k
- 50k PB in 3:05 at the Australian Running Festival, ranking 10th on the Australian all time list.
- Half Marathon PB in 1:12 at the Bathurst Half
- Winning the inaugural Carcoar Cup 60k in 4:02

With the late cancellation of the 100k World Champs, I didn't get a chance to race 100k on the roads. It was disappointing that I didn't run for Australia this year, particularly since I chose this early on over the World Mountain champs and the World Trail champs. I have some unfinished business still and I know I can improve on my 6:55 from last year.

Running in France was a real eye opener!

The trails were good fun this year. Of course the highlight was winning my local ultra, TNF100 in course record time. It was one of those days where everything went right. But the one I probably got the most satisfaction from was at Ultra Trail Mt Fuji. It was just such a different and difficult race and I had to fight so hard for that 5th spot. It really gave me the self-belief that success at the international level is possible.

Some other highlights:
- Winning and running 75km at the Knapsack 6h race
- 4th at Tarawera 100k
- 2nd at the Glow Worm Tunnel Marathon
- 4th at Hakuba Trail 50k in Japan
- 3rd at Surf Coast Century 100k, such a hard day at the office!
- Winning the Fitzroy Falls Marathon, which was my first trail race back in 2007

A big thank you and shout out to all my sponsors who have played a massive part in me being able to do what I do; I hope I've replayed the faith you've had in me as an athlete and been a good representative for what you and your products stand for. Cheers to Barefootinc, Hammer Nutrition Australia, Injinji Performance Products, Ferei Australia, Valley Fitness, Suunto Australia and of course Inov-8. Many thanks to Lake Crackenback and Mountain Sports who have given me opportunities as an ambassador. 

Shortly, I'll post my plans for 2014. It is already shaping up to be a big year!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Praise for Race Directors - 6 Inch Trail Marathon 2013

I'm sitting at the airport awaiting the red eye back to Sydney after a wonderful but way too short trip to WA for their biggest off road event, The 6 Inch Trail Marathon. This event started out as a fat ass event 9 years ago hosted by mate and Australian 24h rep Dave Kennedy. I first met Dave in Wales when competing at the second Commonwealth Championships where I was contesting the trail event and Dave the 24h. As much as he loves the battle of the 24h, Dave is very much a trail runner deep down and does most of his training on the trails around Perth like the Mundi Biddi MTB trail, the Bibbulmun Track, Bluff Knoll and knows them all very well.

Soon enough the fat ass grew too big and Dave now puts this on as an official event and it's a beauty! It's very much what I would call an entry level ultra trail event and behind the Perth and City 2 Surf marathon is the 3rd biggest running event in WA, a figure Dave is very proud of. I had the privilege of staying with Dave and seeing just how much work goes on behind the scenes being a race director. Dave is literally running around doing every job imaginable. In one of his other races, the 100 km/miles Waterous Trail on Foot, he even ran the race himself. Up to a couple of years ago he was doing the same at 6 Inch too, but now 'it's gotten a bit too big for me to run it anymore'!

The 'Hokey' Nut
The most challenging feature of WA trails is not the terrain (although the pea gravel feel like you're running on marbles and the honky nuts are potential ankle snappers!), nor the elevation of which there isn't a great deal. It's more the climatic conditions. December in WA is hot and this weekend was a stinker. Dave wisely starts the race at 4:30, just as the first light is creeping in from the east. But with days prior reaching a baking 40 degrees, it was always going to be a challenge for all competitors (just ask the English cricket team that are over here at the moment!)

This is my last race of the year and went into the race wanting to end the year on a good note. Besides the heat, this race plays to my strengths being a faster type of race but it did attract the best of Western Australian road and ultra runners and lots of great up and comers. But this weekend was much more about just the race, it was about learning about a new playground, the subtle and obvious differences of running on the other side of Australia and meeting a whole new community of trail runners. Although my race didn't go exactly to plan, I'm going home with great memories and new trail running experiences and with a bunch of great new friends.

But to get back to Dave! During the course of the two days I spent with him, I got to see how privileged we are as weekend warriors to have race directors that put on events for us all. Dave marked the course over many days. Dave worked his guts out packing and repacking the bus 3 times with all the aid station gear. Dave drove the bus to drive the competitors from the finish to the start line in the morning. Dave then shuttled people from registration to the start line I the bus. Dave liaised with all the vollies and designated roles. Dave arranged drinks and food post race. Dave had less than 2 hours sleep in the 2 nights before the race. Dave had lists and lists...and Dave did not stop talking or doing the whole time!

Dave did everything but run his own race!
And the proof was in the pudding. So many runners loved the many people made an effort to personally heartily thank Dave after the race. Maybe they're thanking him because he was the one that allowed them to reach a goal. Maybe it's because Dave was the guy who, by organising the event, set them a new challenge, or maybe it was because Dave was the one that gave people a means to try something new. Whatever people's motivation, if it wasn't for Dave this great trail running mob in WA would be a little less likely and many wouldn't get the opportunity to immerse themselves in this great lifestyle of trail running.

Of course, this is the same sentiment for many other race directors out there. As trail running is a sport not regulated by an over arching body (and thank goodness for that) the sport does rely on our Race Directors for it to make it happen. Even with SkyRunning and Ultra Trail World Tour et the end of the day it is events put on by clubs or private enterprise that will ultimately dictate the future of the sport. I hope I hope I never forget to thank Race Directors for all their hard work.

Anyway, my first 6 Inch race was up and down. I do go away happy but with that irritating feeling of unfinished business! After a conservative start and surprisingly winning the first big climb 'King of the Mountain' challenge, I settled into a good pace with another Perth gun Gerry Hill. After about 6km I decided to break away on a long gradual descent and dropped the chasing pack that also included Scott Hawker; who really has a massive ultra running future ahead of him and another young local guy Tom Bakowski.

As I continued through the first leg I was consistently running in the 3:40-3:50 pace range with some of the quicker km in the 3:30s, I was well under threshold and feeling great at this point of the race. On some of the longer straight stretches I glanced over my shoulder and couldn't see any chasers; I'd opened up a pretty handy lead early on. At the 18km point, I met up with Dave who was out on the course checking on the aid station preparations and he later told me I'd opened up 2 minutes on the chasers. It was still very early in the morning and it was still quite cool with a nice little breeze. But it was early days still. I reached the 23km aid station and refilled my 1L UltrAspire bladder as I was using the smallest vest possible, the Spry. I downed a Hammer Gel and pushed on.

The next leg was a tough little section, this is where we reached the highest point of the course and there were some long exposed sections where the sun was starting to become quite punishing. But I shouldn't complain, at least 90% of the course in under shade and it could have been a lot worse. I was watching my hydration and I was happy where I was at in the race. With a couple of minutes lead I was in a good position but not home by any means.

Early on in the race
Towards the end of this leg there is an aid station at the 34km mark at the top of a short but steep climb. Dave had shown me this hill the day before as we were out marking the course. He showed me from the top of the hill where the aid station would be set up and he had offered to take me down and up again to offer me a feel of the hill, but I declined the offer. It hindsight I wish I had taken him up on it!

The whole out and back is 5km all up and as I started the 'out' leg I was noticing my pace dropping a bit but decided that this was probably a good thing given that the big climb was coming. As I reached what should have been the start of the climb I came to a junction where I could go straight on or left down a little gully. My gut was saying left as I knew the climb started at a dry creek bed from what Dave had told me but there was a little problem. There was a strip of pink tape lying across this trail on the ground of the trail I should have gone down and some marking tape tied to a branch on my right hand side of the trail that went straight on. So in my mind, with not much time to think intelligently I chose to go straight on. As soon as I headed up the trail I knew it didn't feel right but as it was still heading uphill it could have been it. Soon this trail began to level out though and knew that it wasn't the one. I had probably ran another 400m and by the time I had turned and returned to the right trail it was about 4-5 minutes lost.

As I started to climb the right hill back on the course, Scotty Hawker was already descending it. He must've been too far behind me and after the race he told me his support had it down to 30s as I turned off on the start of the out and back leg and this sounds spot on to where he was now in the race. Dave came down and asked me where I went wrong and he followed me back down the trail to fix the little problem with the ribbon. Evidently what had happened was a mountain biker or a kangaroo or something had snapped through the marking tape that was orinally stretched across the trail that I had incorrectly chosen to head up and had left the right amount of pnk tape on the right hand side tie point where it had snapped from. This happens in trail running and I stuffed up big time by not thinking it through fully and by not trying out both trails before choosing one. Had I just decided to head down the other trail as well I only had to turn the next corner down the gully and I would have seen another ribbon.

But it did not in any way cost me the race. Scott had paced himself beautifully and was warming into the race. Almost as soon as I started on the descent and the 'out' section to get back to the course proper, I began to drop pace a lot. I was feeling mentally a bit demoralised and physically was beginning to feel very low and my legs were going to jelly. I was feeling a little light headed and dizzy and the little pinches were taking their toll on me. 3km or so later, a couple of little walks to get my heart rate together and to get some food and water into me, I was passed by Tom Bakowski. I knew I'd be hard pressed keeping up with him the way I was feeling. The temps were now in the high 20s and it was now about surviving to the finish and holding on to a podium spot.

Dave Kennedy (RD), with Scott and Tom
And thankfully I did, the 4th placed guy at the out and back, Gerry Hill must have pulled and I held onto 3rd comfortably in the end. In the end there was 16 minutes between Scott and I and this is significant and shows what good form Scott is in before his big tilt at the HK100 and gives me something to think about going into a massive year next year about race preparation and pacing in the heat!

At the finish, everyone hung around and enjoyed the plentiful post race food and drinks, including midstrength beer and champaigne, and vegetarian subway! Dave did a short and sweet presentation and prize giving ceremony and what struck me was the generous applause each and every competitor received as they crossed the finish line. This race had a great little feel about it, from the time I met a bunch of athletes at Dwellingup Caravan Park the night before at the Q and A session, to the time I said goodbye I met so many lovely and approachable people. I'd like to see more and more easterners get over and run this event, it's well worth the trip over!

And we all have Dave to thank for it.